Aldona Kmiec is a Polish-Australian photographer, based in Ballarat. Her story is pretty unique! Aldona grew up on a farm in southern Poland, but seized the opportunity to travel as soon as Poland joined the European Union. She spent time studying photography in London, before emigrating to Australia in 2009, and in 2011 her journey took another unexpected turn, landing her in the regional centre of Ballarat.
Here, she has chased every opportunity to become part of the cultural fabric of the local community, and has become well known for her portraiture, particularly her ongoing series documenting the stories of recent immigrants. The City of Ballarat and are one of her major clients, and she is, in turn, one of the city’s greatest champions.
Aldona Kmiec originally moved to Ballarat in September 2010. ‘Choosing Ballarat as a base was not easy, but I really wanted to avoid traffic, have a big garden, be part of great community, and still live close to the big city’ she explains. She soon came to love Ballarat, and especially all the Victorian houses with their high ceilings, open fireplaces and ornate details. ‘Having experienced the atmosphere created in these wonderful old homes, I decided that I had to have one of my own’ she says. ‘In Poland we’re very connected to the land and a sense of place, and traditionally rarely move houses. After living out of suitcases for 12 years I really wanted a place to settle down for a bit’.
After finding this generous double fronted Victorian home close to the centre of town, Aldona knew it was time to take a leap of faith. In 2011 she purchased the property, and hasn’t looked back.
Built in 1875, the house has been an ongoing renovation project since Aldona moved in, and like most homes, she says it’s certainly ‘not finished’! Aldona’s first priority was re-stumping and rewiring the home. The main fireplace in the cosy central loungeroom was also re-established, floorboards restored and polished, and the whole house painted inside and out. Externally, the decorative cast iron fretwork on the verandah was replaced, and both front and back gardens were lovingly re-built from the ground up, and nurtured back to life.
‘You can just imagine how much energy it took, but once you embark on a renovation project, you have to be prepared to finish it and when you finish, you tend to forget those hard times pretty quickly and move on to enjoy it!’ says Aldona.
Aldona has filled her home with salvaged second hand finds, and is especially fond of fossicking in the Mill Markets in Daylesford. She is very handy (!) and loves restoring the old pieces she finds, such as her kitchen table, which came from a local mechanic workshop.
One of Aldona’s favourite details at home is the oversized photographic mural in the dining room, created using a custom wallpaper print of one of her early photographs. The image, titled ‘Café in Soler’, was printed by Pickawall in Melbourne. ‘Seeing it larger than life on my wall always reminds of where I’ve been in life, and also where I’m headed’ says Aldona.
Aldona’s proudest achievement, though, is her garden. Having grown up on a farm, her family grew potatoes, corn, wheat, and all sorts of vegetables on a large scale, equipping Aldona with lots of useful skills she has employed in establishing her garden. ‘Building the garden was a lot of hard physical work, first removing the overgrown weeds from the site, then removing the top layer of soil and replacing it with loamy soil, then building pathways and planting trees and veggies’ Aldona recalls, though she is thrilled with the results. ‘The garden is such a meditative space for me, I could not imagine living in a place without one’.
Aldona has researched a little history about her home and delights in re-telling its stories. ‘The earliest mention of the house having an owner was from around 1900, when it belonged to a woman named Harriett’ says Aldona… ‘then, in the 1920’s an eccentric Italian migrant lived in the house, and according to reports every Sunday he used to play opera at a very loud volume and then go out into the street to shoot pigeons! This gentleman may also have planted our apple tree which is more than 85 years old, and still offers delicious fruit in abundance’.